Coping with change - Children Leaving Home
Coping when children leave home:
"Selfhood begins with a walking away and love is proved in the letting go."
They say that prevention is better than cure and I’m sorry to say they are right! In the case of children leaving home the preparation starts from their birth and if today you are feeling separation anxiety or don’t know what to do with your time, then you are the “guilty” party. If you’re French or Italian you may have the opposite problem and be wondering how on earth to get your children to leave home (see the French film Tanguy for every French parents’ nightmare) or tune in to about 35 % of Italian families who have one or more ‘bamboccioni’ still living at home and some well into their forties! However for those of you who have seen your young adults spread their wings and fly the nest and are now staring at empty bedrooms, not to mention a full fridge of food (yes you’re still shopping for the ‘whole’ family); here are some tips to get you back onto the wheel of life and ease yourself into your new identity as a human being again. For those of you with young children don’t think that this doesn’t concern you, it does! Learning to stay a well-rounded adult as opposed to just a ‘parent’ is incredibly important especially if you don’t want to bore the pants off your childless friends with continuous mindless conversations about your offspring. Very often parents and by this I really mean mothers, tend to abdicate from the adult female/woman’s world and join the Mummsy club, with all that that implies, only to come down to earthlater with a bump and wonder (very often single Mums) where their identity went.
- Prepare your children for being independent from the youngest possible age. That way you will not get used to running around after them like a slave (your new unpaid job) and you will be less tempted to be invasive when they leave home. No-nos are offering to do their washing, taking ‘redcross’ parcels round and calling every day. This keeps you attached from a distance but is soul-destroying as you are not embracing your new freedom or changing your identity in any way.
- Psychologists consider that the transition from being an actively involved mother to being an independent woman again takes around 18 months to two years. This means that it's vital to allow yourself the time to grieve, work through the loss, and rebuild your life. Be gentle on yourself and the expectations that you have. Even better, don’t give up the day job! I like many others, managed to raise two children single-handed without giving up work. You have to accept that maybe you’ll only work part time or give up the travelling but being a working Mum means that you are a good professional role model to your daughters (studies now show that their own chances of succeeding are greatly increased) and you will be a far more rounded and interesting person to your family not to mention having a greater degree of financial independence. Once your children leave, you are free to broaden your professional horizons, start the travelling again and you do it from a position of strength. If you give up your career completely, you start from a position of weakness and out-dated skills. I would definitely suggest life coaching in this case to reassess your life and evaluate your current skills, aspirations and expectations.
- Be sociable. Take up a new interest or sport and join a networking group where you can make new friendships and be inspired by dynamic, active women of your age and situation who can help and guide you towards a new career path, or way of life be it paid or charity work.
- If your children are younger adults or teenagers – i.e. off to university or boarding school, then the separation anxiety may be more acute and will be felt by both sides. It is therefore important to make sure that you have established the methods and frequency of communication so they know how and when they are calling you and you should establish when you will call them. There is likely to be a real sense of grief and loss on both sides that will take some getting used to. The good news is that with the myriad methods of visual communication (FaceTime, Skype etc.) there is no reason why you can’t stay in touch as much as you wish. One of the things that will hit you the hardest is the lack of ‘noise’ (yes silence is hard to deal with) and the fact that you have no-one to nag or issue orders to, a bit like a general without an army. That’s hard – so don’t take it out on the dog or your partner! Learn to give ‘yourself’ orders and nag yourself into life style changes.
- Prepare the next reunion. For all of the above whether children, students or grown adults, I have a found a great way of coping with empty nest syndrome is to have a family occasion to look forward to and plan and chat about what you will do together. This means that both sides have something to look forward to and it gives you something to talk about and plan together as a family.
- The most crucial thing of all is to never pass the burden of your own grief on to your child. It is absolutely fine to tell them that you miss them, or that you will be sad when they leave. However you cannot make them bear the responsibility for your own sadness and pain. It may be tempting to ask your child to stay, or cry because they are leaving you but that will only compromise the possibility of them finding happiness and independence.
- Once the children have left they will become more and more independent by the week and although they may be calling daily at first, they will soon have their own crowd of friends who will become their ‘new family’. Once again do not make your child feel guilty because they want to call less frequently or because when they do call, they only seem to talk about their friends and aren’t interested in your life. This is all perfectly normal and natural and in no way should you suggest that they have ‘forgotten’ about their family. Feel proud that they have moved on towards independence and that they feel secure enough to stand on their own two feet. One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is the gift of self-confidence and independence. If you have achieved this, it’s a job well done.
- Now get out there, get busy and deal with ‘you’ and find yourself a new bunch of friends and activities. Your children will be thrilled that they don’t have to worry about you. If you are still married or have a partner, then plan things together so that you have a string of activities to look forward to and re-educate yourself into being a 360° person again not just a parent! Remember you don’t ‘own’ your children. They are not ‘yours’ but are ‘on loan’ to you and then should be free to go their own way. By leaving, your daughter/son has the chance to become their own person and by letting them leave so do you.